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As Myanmar Ousts UN's Petrie, And Protests Are Called Trivial, Time Has Come to Speak

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, December 4 -- The Myanmar military government now characterizes the protest this Fall as "trivial," and says that the civilian opposition will have no role in the long-delayed constitutional process. Tuesday in New York, Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesperson for a response. She replied that "we should hear shortly from Mr. Gambari.  As you know, he is in New York right now, and he should be meeting shortly for consultations, certainly with the Secretary-General, and he will be meeting also with the General Assembly, as far as I know, and with the Security Council.  I don't know when."

   In the interim, the spokesperson who accompanied Mr. Gambari on his recent trip through the Far East, Ms. Hua Jiang, in response to Inner City Press' question about Myanmar's expulsion of UN Resident Coordinator Charles Petrie confirmed on Tuesday that "Mr. Petrie is leaving Myanmar today, as planned.  As agreed with the Myanmar authorities, a senior member of the UN Country Team will take over the functions of UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar in an acting capacity pending Mr. Petrie's replacement. Mr. Dan Baker, UNFPA Representative, has been designated for this purpose. The process for the selection of the new UNRC (which started prior to the decision of the Myanmar Government) is ongoing in accordance with standard procedures."

            These "standard procedures," recently explained to Inner City Press by the outgoing UN Development Program chief in Belarus, will include checking with the military government of Myanmar if a particular resident coordinator is acceptable.

UN's Charles Petrie while still in Myanmar

            Back in June, Charles Petrie spoke with a handful of reporters including Inner City Press, partially off-the-record. Even at that time he alluded on-the-record to the danger of being thrown out of the country, and of "trying to keep things from deteriorating." (Ultimately he was ousted for an October 24 statement about the "deteriorating humanitarian situation.") Never followed-up on due to spiraling events, there were in mid-2007 questions of corruption and "tithing" of salaries within the UN Development Program in Myanmar. In June, Charles Petrie acknowledged he'd heard of that, not only in Inner City Press' reporting, which he said he'd read, but when he first arrived in Myanmar. He said he looked into it but could not document it. But sources have told Inner City Press that

"When Charles Petrie first came to Myanmar, he had heard of the extensive corruption.  In his first week, he conducted several staff meetings in which he gave the 'new sheriff in town' speech, saying past deeds would not be examined, but that he expected a clean ship while he was there.  Shortly thereafter, an unsigned memo arrived on his desk that, essentially, said that if he expected his visa to remain valid then he had better shut up. Charles has been another empty suit shilling for more funds to the country ever since."

            Inner City Press in June asked Petrie about this directly, particularly the visa aspect. He requested that his answer, with its discussion of the ramifications within UNDP of a persona non grata finding, be treated only as background. While we continue to honor that request, now that he is out, why should he not tell the truth of what he saw? Said otherwise, who now profits from continued silence? We'll see.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540